It’s time to celebrate Purim! And should you be in search of an appropriate play to see in honor of the holiday, head down to UNDER St. Marks and check out Jewqueen, Little Lord’s current production. The piece is a raucous, irreverently reverent manifestation of the Biblical story of the Book of Esther. The play is a worthwhile delight at this festive time of the year. Rather than having a traditional presentation of the tale, with one actress to play Esther and others to play Mordecai, the King, etc., Little Lord chooses to have their whole company both narrate the tale and perform multiple roles. Michael Levinton, the show's director, sporting a sassy white party dress, red and black checkerboard robe, and green paper crown, acts as the principle narrator and the ancient King, bringing the company together to perform the story and keeping the action moving along. The remaining six performers all take turns in the other principal roles, as well as in the position of narrator. They both enact and present the story, even at times analyzing some of the more complex elements of the tale.
The entire company is hilarious and charming in their multiple roles, making everyone in the audience want to join in with the fun. And join in they can–there are places for audience participation: reading aloud a short section of text, using noisemakers, and in general cheering, booing, and clapping when appropriate. This relaxed actor-audience divide intensifies the sense that this is a celebration, not just a performance. This production is being put on for the enjoyment of all in the playhouse, not just the performers. The performers all appear to be having a joyous time up on stage and the feeling is infectious in the audience.
This sense of a party in place of a performance is set from the moment the audience is allowed into the theater space. The performers are all singing and dancing along to some classic karaoke hits and wearing crazy party dresses in bright colors with lots of fluff. This tone is maintained throughout, even in the moments where the story becomes heavy. For instance, when narrating the attempted poisoning of the King and the subsequent execution of the would-be assassins, one of the performers narrates the tale while holding up illustrations on poster board. This technique, one of many like it, prevents this evening’s fare from becoming too dark or too didactic.
At times, the humor is a bit much and there are moments where the silliness could perhaps be toned down. Some of the gags are a tad obvious or go on for a bit too long. It seems, however, that the company is aware of these potential pitfalls and hopes to embrace them rather than attempting to gloss over them or sweep them under the rug.
The most impressive thing about the piece is that, within all of its silliness, its use of drag, and endless humor, there is a genuine quality that rings through. It is easy to believe that the performers care about this story and truly wish to share it with their audiences. They approach the material in a loving way, making it seem like a gift that they are sharing with their spectators. The wrapping is all of the kitschy charm; the real present is the story itself.
There is a charming unprofessional professionalism to the way Jewqueen plays on stage. In pretending to be amateurish, this company has created a sophisticatedly campy take on a meaningful, important Old Testament tale. For anyone in need of a little music, a lot of laughs, and an ancient tale that stands the test of time, this is the show to see.